Avoiding Homework-related Meltdowns: 27 Tips for Parents of Kids on the Autism Spectrum

“My 11 y.o. child with high functioning autism is very smart, but still struggles with school assignments. There are homework battles, tantrums and meltdowns every night in our house. What can I do to help?”

High-Functioning Autism (HFA) impact the way kids are able to process and understand information. They have a developmental disorder that often creates difficulty with writing, speaking, listening, thinking, spelling, or doing math problems. Many young people on the autism spectrum also have comorbid disorders (e.g., ADHD).

Parents and teachers must understand that children on the spectrum need to be taught differently and need some accommodations to enhance the learning environment. Parents can follow the tips below to create a well-rounded learning atmosphere for the successful completion of homework assignments:

1. At the start of the school year:
  • talk with your child’s educator about your role in helping with homework (e.g., some educators want the parent to monitor homework closely, while others want the parent to simply check to make sure the assignment is completed on time)
  • ask the educator about any guidelines that kids are expected to follow as they complete homework
  • ask about the kinds of assignments that will be given and the purposes for the assignments

2. Know that the educator wants to help you and your “special needs” youngster, even if the two of you disagree about something. When you have a legitimate complaint, rather than going to the principal, give the educator a chance to work out the problem with you and your youngster.

3. Attend school activities as often as possible (e.g., plays, parent-teacher conferences, concerts, open houses, sports events, etc.).

4. If possible, volunteer to help in your youngster's classroom or at special events.

5. Get to know some of your youngster's classmates and their parents so you can build a support network for you and your youngster (this shows your youngster that his home and school are a team!).
==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

6. If the educator has made it known that children are to do homework on their own, limit your involvement to just making sure that supplies are provided. Too much parental assistance can make your child dependent and takes away from the value of homework as a way for him or her to become independent and responsible.

7. After your youngster has read the homework instructions, ask him to tell you in his own words what the assignment is about (some schools have homework hotlines or websites you can access for assignments in case your youngster misplaced a paper or was absent on the day it was given).

8. Schools have a responsibility to keep parents informed about students’ performance and behavior. Therefore, parents have a right to confront the teacher if they don't find out until report-card time that their youngster is having difficulties. Conversely, you may discover that a problem exists before the educator does. In this case, alert the educator so you can work together to solve the problem in its early stages.

9. Sometimes a child's version of what's going on isn't the same as the educator's version (e.g., your youngster may tell you that her teacher never explains assignments so that she can understand them, but the educator may assert that your youngster isn't paying attention when assignments are given). Thus, check with the educator regarding your child's complaints about homework to make sure everyone is on the same page.

10. To reinforce good study habits at home, you can help your youngster manage time to complete assignments. For example, if he has a history report due in two weeks, discuss all the steps he needs to take to complete it on time, such as: 
  • selecting a topic
  • doing the research by looking up books and other materials on the topic and taking notes
  • figuring out what questions to discuss
  • drafting an outline
  • writing a rough draft
  • revising and completing the final draft

In addition, encourage your youngster to make a chart that shows how much time he expects to spend on each step.

11. “Special needs” kids need reassurance from the people whose opinions they value most—their parents. "You've done a great job" or "Good first draft of your book report!" can go a long way toward inspiring your youngster to complete assignments.

12. HFA kids also need to know when they haven't done their best work. But, be sure to make criticism constructive. For example, “Your educator will understand your ideas better if you use your best handwriting.” Then praise your child when she finishes a neat version. 
==> How to Prevent Meltdowns and Tantrums in Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder

13. Help your youngster make a homework schedule and put it in a place where she will see it often. Writing out assignments will get her used to the idea of keeping track of what's due and when. Also, provide homework folders so your youngster can tuck her assignments for safekeeping in order to help her to stay organized.

14. Some public libraries have homework centers with tutors and other kinds of one-on-one support. Make use of these services as needed.

15. Some homework assignments will be of no interest to your youngster. Educators simply don't have time to tailor assignments to the individual needs of each youngster. But, most educators welcome feedback and want to assign homework that children can complete successfully. Most educators try to structure assignments so that a wide range of children will find them interesting (e.g., they may offer options for different approaches to the same topic, give extra assignments to those who want more of a challenge, or give specialized assignments to those who are having trouble with a particular subject).

16. After the educator returns completed homework, read the comments to see if your youngster has done the assignment acceptably.

17. While you will want to limit the amount of time your HFA youngster spends playing video games, you should also look for television programs that relate to what your youngster is studying in school (e.g., programs on history, science, dramatizations of children’s literature, etc.). Also, try to watch these educational shows with your youngster, discuss them, and encourage follow-up activities (e.g., reading, a trip to the museum, etc.). 

18. Your youngster's homework area doesn't have to be elaborate. A desk in the bedroom, the kitchen table, or a corner of the family room is adequate. The area should be fairly quiet and have good lighting. Your youngster may want to decorate a special area for homework (e.g., some favorite artwork taped to the walls, a brightly colored container to hold pencils, a plant, etc.). Also, some kids work well with quiet background music.

19. What about supplies? Here’s is a good list of things to have on hand (keep these items together in one place):

•    almanac
•    calculator
•    dictionary
•    erasers
•    glue
•    index cards
•    maps
•    paper clips
•    paste
•    pencil sharpener
•    pencils
•    pens
•    ruler
•    scissors
•    stapler
•    tape
•    thesaurus
•    writing paper

20. Ask your youngster's educator to explain school policy about the use of computers for assignments. Computers are great learning and homework tools. Your youngster can use his computer for writing reports, getting information through Internet resource sites, and for communicating with educators and classmates about homework assignments. In most schools, educators post information about assignments on their own websites. Some have an electronic bulletin board on which children can post questions for the educator or others to answer. If you don’t have a computer in the home, many schools may offer after-school programs that allow students to use the school computers. Also, most public libraries have computers.
==> Parenting System that Reduces Defiant Behavior in Teens with Autism Spectrum Disorder

21. Show your child the value of being a “life-long learner.” Let her see you: writing reports, letters, e-mails and lists; using math to balance your checkbook or to measure for new carpeting; reading newspapers, books and eBooks – and any other things that require thought and effort. Also, tell your youngster about what you do at work. 

22. Help your youngster to use daily routines to support the skills she is learning at school. For example:
  • teach her to play word and math games
  • help her to look up information about things in which she is interested, such as musicians, athletes, cars, space travel
  • talk with her about what she sees and hears as the two of you visit a zoo or museum, walk through the neighborhood, or go shopping

In other words, try to turn everyday experiences into learning opportunities so that your child will view “education” as a fun activity.

23. The best homework schedule is one that works for both the parent and child. What works well in one family may not work in another. For example, one youngster may do homework best after diner, while another may do best in the afternoon or after an hour of play. However, it’s best not to let your youngster leave homework to do just before bedtime.

24. Your youngster's outside activities (e.g., sports or music lessons) may mean that you need a flexible homework schedule. However, if there isn't enough time to finish homework, your youngster may need to drop an outside activity.

25. Talk with your youngster about how to take a quiz or test. Be sure he understands how important it is to carefully read the instructions, keep track of the time, and avoid spending too much time on any one question.

26. Watch for aggravation in your child. If your youngster shows signs of becoming aggravated or confused about a particular assignment, let her take a break. Encourage her and let her see that you know she can do the work. Also, work out a way to lessen her frustration. For example: Is the homework often too hard? Does your youngster need to make up a lot of work because of absences? Does your youngster need extra support beyond what home and school can give her (e.g., a mentor program)?

27. Lastly, talk to the educator about any concerns you may have. You may want to contact him or her if:
  • neither you nor your youngster can understand the purpose of the assignments
  • the assignments are too hard or too easy
  • the homework is assigned in uneven amounts (e.g., no homework is given on Monday, Tuesday or Wednesday, but on Thursday four assignments are made that are due the next day)
  • the instructions are unclear
  • you can't provide needed supplies or materials
  • you can't seem to help your youngster get organized to finish the assignments
  • your youngster has missed school and needs to make up assignments
  • your youngster refuses to do her assignments, even though you've tried hard to get her to do them

By helping your youngster with homework assignments, you can help him or her learn important lessons about discipline and responsibility. Parents are in a unique position to help their youngster make connections between homework and the "real world," and thus bring meaning (and hopefully some enjoyment) to the academic experience.
Resources for parents of children and teens on the autism spectrum:
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